My faux-grandson is only about eight years into his brain formation journey.
His brain started being constructed in-utero. Eventually enough of the the pieces, parts and white matter circuitry formed, and his brain was ready to boot up. His body and mind were then born into this world. After his birth, his brain started perceiving things through the body’s built-in sensors like eyes, ears, tongue, fingers. It started building connections and habits. It was learning. And not all of it was intended.
Learning to Label
But before I had met him, when was around three, teachers taught him to identify colors. Like most people do, they probably pointed at a color, and labeled it verbally. Red, green, yellow, blue. Eventually he got a little older and more colors were added to his perception - but he was still taught only a finite number of colors. His rainbow drawing at age 6 shows his color categorization process well under way. Unintended consequences of labeling yield perceptions that are more digital than analog.
Perceiving Wavelengths of Electromagnetic Radiation
Electromagnetic light has different properties. Our brain includes the ability to distinguish between different wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation. When light hits the surface of an object, some of it is reflected. The rest is absorbed into the object that we are looking at. Inside our eyes are some structures that take the light waves as input, filter them, and produce signals which then go into our brain for interpretation as quantified colors - and then we humans add labels such as red, blue and green. The mechanics of the filtering mechanism are not wholly understood yet with several theories still competing. But that does not matter for my faux-grandsons art class.
Watching Him Learn to Draw
Lately he has been showing a deeper interest in drawing. His parents got him a book where it taught him to draw cartoon characters with the use of guide lines, circles and the like. This is a popular way to learn to draw. He took to it naturally. But I noticed that he was drawing a lot of outlines. It struck me that this method had shown him to ‘edge-detect’ and not to actually ‘see’ and then ‘illustrate’. So I arranged a time with his mom to give him a mini art class. My intention was simply a lesson to show him how to ‘see’ by slowing down and looking carefully at what he saw.
Colors are a great, easy way to focus on “seeing”. The first step in his art class was to verify that he saw colors with their typical labels.. Red vs. Green, Blue vs. Yellow.
I showed him a color wheel and pointed at primary colors, and he saw them the same way I do.associated to the same labels. So I then asked him how many colors he saw in this wheel.
He said: “Five”
I said, “Are you sure? And pointed at violet.
He said, “Oh! Oh! There are a whole lot more colors than five colors aren’t there.
I said, “Yes, there are so many colors that we can not count them.”
So we moved on. I had him look at leaves of a Cosmos flower plant in the garden and tell me what he saw. He said, “green”. I said, “are you sure you don’t see more colors”? He said, I see yellowish and I see brown and I see green. I said, “good!” - now how many greens do you see? I had him pick pencils closest to what he saw out of my box of Prismacolors. Sure enough, he was seeing a lot of colors.
We played with looking at a couple more things - a ‘string-of-bananas’ succulent, and I brought out a dead rainbow scarab. I also showed him how this bug has the the amazing characteristics of “flip flop car paint”. It got him interested. And he was able to see a lot of color in the bug.
By that point, he was seeing what I wanted him to see. Colors. Lots and Lots of colors. And even more than that.
This art class was really about “seeing”. Not just “seeing color”. He was also seeing more details than before. I showed him a little more about how to hold a pencil to make it easier to shade areas (hint: don’t hold it as if you are writing, put your fingers all on top of the pencil), then gave him permission to not draw the outlines of what he saw, then I left him alone with my box of Prismacolors, and a couple of magazines to find photos in to copy .
He then decided to draw an entire cruise ship! And it has no outline of the boat shape. He saw the parts of the photo and combined it into a whole without an overall outline. Pretty good leap for a seven year old.
Imagine the possibilities for learning if we could all learn to “see” past labels? And experience the beauty of the spectrum of intersecting waves that is the world we live in?